Using text-message ‘nudges’ to increase payment

Name: Jamie King

Title: Cost Administrator

City: Tulsa, Okla.

Jamie King has seen firsthand how fines and fees can take a cascading toll on defendants in the municipal courtrooms in Tulsa, Okla. Three out of four defendants miss payment deadlines set by judges — most often, she says, because they don’t understand the directions for how to pay them. And when that happens, these people face additional arrest, more fines, and even revoked driver’s licenses. Through Tulsa’s participation in What Works Cities, King partnered with Code for Tulsa and the Behavioral Insights Team to develop a text-messaging tool to “nudge” defendants to meet their due dates. She tested three approaches: One set of people received text messages worded in a friendly way, another group got more sternly worded reminders, and a third received no text message at all. The results from this randomized control trial were clear: More than 60 percent of people who received either of the text reminders paid their fines on time, compared with 48 percent for those who got no text. The intervention stands to keep hundreds of residents from a prolonged entanglement with the justice system. An added benefit: Revenue for the city increased by $93,000. King is now looking to use a similar text-message reminder strategy to reduce the number of people who miss their court dates.

Pro tip: “Start small and measure your results. The data is going to teach you where to go.”

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